Badminton 2.0 – An Eventful Day at Haras du Pin


I know a lot of people who were looking forward to the World Equestrian Games 2014 in Normandy. They booked their tickets for the cross-country at Haras du Pin months in advance and flew thousands of miles to be there. Many of them were disappointed. Some were much more than that; they were raging. The logistical nightmare that some people experienced overshadowed the pleasure of seeing the best horses and riders in the world tackle a universally admired cross-country course. I was there, and it WAS a tough day – even though I was among the lucky ones – and an eventful one. I wrote about it for Eventing Nation. 



Cream of the Crop: The Young Event Horse Classes at Dublin Horse Show



What a joy to be at Dublin Horse Show – that great display of Irish horses and horsemanship, and the pinnacle of the equestrian calendar here in Ireland. I managed to poke my nose in all over the show grounds, stables and even the lorry park (where the barbecues were scrumptious), but I particularly enjoyed watching the Young Event Horse classes. I wasn’t the only one – the stands were packed – and even the judges, who included Lucinda Green looking elegant in an emerald suit and hat, seemed to be enjoying themselves… But who wouldn’t want to ogle leggy young athletes in the summer sunshine? Here’s my article on the classes, published in An Eventful Life (please note there is a paywall).

A Five-star Horse Show in One of France’s Prettiest Seaside Resorts? Yes, Please…

Longine Jumping International La Baule CSIO***** 


A lot of people don’t like the French. Even the French don’t really like the French. Although they live in one of the most beautiful countries in the world, with divine food and wine, a perfectly acceptable climate, and – according to a recent study – have more sex than anyone else in Europe, they’re a sulky bunch who love to say no.

‘Pour manger? Maintenant?’ You want to eat now? At this hour? The owner of the chic little restaurant shakes his head in disbelief. Or, ‘Un café avec les dessert? Non. Impossible.’ You want a coffee alongside your dessert? Don’t be ridiculous. You savage.

I am the exception. I adore the French – so elegant, so saucy. I like them so much, when I’m in France I often pretend to be French. My daughter is the same. ‘Maman?’, she says, when we’re in public. She pouts, tilts her head, twirls her hair. ‘Mais oui?’ I reply, as authentically as I can. ‘Mais non!’ she retorts, stamping her foot.

It’s a short game due to our limited French vocabulary.

Last weekend I played the game on my own in La Baule, a century-old resort strung along a spectacular 12-kilometer strand on the Atlantic coast in southern Brittany. In the first half of the 20th century La Baule was a watering hole for French high society, and its luxury hotels and Michelen-starred restaurants are still populated by lanky beautiful people drinking rose and smoking provocatively in the golden beachy light.

At least they were when I was there for the second leg of the European Division One Furusiyya FEI Nation’s Cup series. This is the second year of the series’ new global format, with 40 countries competing in divisions around the world leading up to a final in Barelona on the 9th – 12th of October. There’s an Asian division, a Middle Eastern division, a North American division, a European Division – but the European is the most competitive, since Europe is after all the spiritual home of showjumping. The leading 18 nations from all the divisions are invited to compete in the final, where they have the chance to prove themselves the best showjumping nation on the planet – something the French managed to do in 2013. The French were, therefore, the favorites in the weekend’s competition.

I strolled from the grand dame Hermitage hotel to the show grounds, past dainty pastel houses nestled under the trees. Every window box was full of exuberant flowers, and the birds were singing. I felt as if there should be silver-screen-style background music – what a beautiful day for a daydream – it was that perfect.

I wandered into the show grounds, past the shopping village with tantalizing horsey clothes and equipment. I paused to watch the greats warming up: there was Cian O’Connor – Ireland’s 2012 Olympic bronze medalist – riding Quidam’s Cherie. There was Rodrigo Pessoa – Olympic gold medalist in 2004 – as elegant as ever on a Hannoverian gelding named Status. There was Ben Maher – who helped Great Britain win team gold in London – on the fabulous gelding Urico (this was, in fact, to be the final class completed by the promising Urico due to an injury he sustained dramatically during the Grand Prix two days later). Watching these masters prepare their horses at a big show is, for me, a particular treat. They make such a harmonious picture, these riders and horses at the peak of fitness and ability – gorgeous super athletes. I’m always inspired to go back home and train harder to improve myself and my horse.

But that will have to wait, I thought, as I blagged my way into the Mumm’s Champagne tent, taking the offered coupe – why not? – and finding a seat for the competition. The Spanish team kicked things off with Manual Fernandez Saro knocking two rails. Then Pessoa came in for Brazil and had a surprising 12 faults. In fact, only about a third of the combinations went clear in the first round. Tough course.

The afternoon waned. The weather was ideal – sunny and warm enough to make the champagne taste particularly good.

In the second round – which is jumped over the exact same 1.60 cm course – things improved. Sometimes in a Nation’s Cup you’ll see horses get tired and results deteriorate, but in this case there was marked improvement as the horses and riders figured out the trickier questions on the course. Cian O’Connor was clear; Ben Maher was clear; Rodrigo Pessoa was clear; that legend Michael Whitaker was clear. The beautiful Penelope Leprevost and her GQ-handsome boyfriend Kevin Staut both had clear rounds for the French team. In fact, the French didn’t touch a rail at all during the competition, with only Jerome Hurel’s horse putting a foot in the water for four faults. Although the Belgians managed a strong fight – with five clear rounds to finish on eight faults – in the end no one could touch the French team with their five clear rounds and four faults.

There were 27,000 spectators in the pink and white stands, and they were a patriotic bunch. When their team won they went crazy. Although I live in Ireland and am a staunch supporter of our lads, I was happy for the French fans. As I said, I like the French. I raised my glass of Mumm’s. ‘Oui!’ I cried to the overjoyed Frenchman to my right. ‘Oui!’, to the elated Frenchwoman to my left. It seemed a particularly good time to pretend to be French.


Tony O’Connor – Irish Equine Artist

Irish equine painter Tony O’Connor  is a something of a dark horse. In a limp art market in an historic recession he’s come out of nowhere to have sell-out solo shows in Cork and Dublin, almost 90,000 followers on Facebook and an avidly anticipated new solo show ‘Stags and Stallions’ running until the 26th of June at the Doorway Gallery in Dublin (29 May – 26 June).

I sat down for a chat with the soft-spoken artist before his new show. Check out Horsetalk to see what I found out about his sudden success.




Build on Our Strengths: a Three-part Series Published in The Irish Field

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 The hubbub of exciting debate at the recent Irish Sport Horse Strategy meetings around how best to improve the Irish Sport Horse industry inspired me to look to our competitors on the continent, to examine their best practices.  The resulting three-part series,  “Global Trade”, 3 May 2014; “Training for the Top”, 10 May 2014; “Going Dutch”, 17 May 2014, were published in The Irish Field  (please note there is a paywall).

Here is an excerpt from part one, “Global Trade”, about best breeding practices on the continent:

“Although we may wish to learn from the continent, it’s important to remember that in some ways native Irish horses are superior to foreign horses – they are easier to keep, and easier to keep sound, for example. They learn quickly; they’re clever and have a “fifth leg”, as eventers say. We’ve already lost some of that, and we don’t want to lose any more. When a breeder at one strategy meeting said mare approvals are a waste of time and ‘you can take any mare from up in the hills and breed a good horse’, he wasn’t talking rubbish. He was talking about another era, when Ireland was full of great horses, before Ireland ‘sold her seed potatoes’. There are still superb Irish horses, and it’s important we don’t overlook their strengths in our eagerness to borrow what’s useful from the continent. We need to innovate – to blend the best practices and horses from elsewhere with the best of our own native expertise and stock.”



When You’re On a Great Horse…



Very sad news. Coolcorron Cool Diamond, the Irish Sport Horse stallion ridden by Irish Showjumping Chef d’Equipe Robert Splaine on countless Nation’s Cup teams, has died at the age of 24. I had the privilege of exercising ‘Bobbu’ over the summer of 2007,  just prior to his retirement. He was a consummate gentleman under saddle and in the stable: beautiful, powerful, stoic, mannerly – a truly magnificent horse with great gravitas. I sat down with Robert Splaine to hear his thoughts about the loss of his long-time partner; the results were published in The Irish Field.